Japanese architecture can be pretty damn cool. Architects all over Japan design some very beautiful and unique buildings that catch the attention and imagination of people all around the world.
But there’s a flipside to Japanese architecture too. Turns out, as I recently read on Reddit, Japanese houses become very worthless very quickly.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not using “worthless” as a derogatory term; I mean that according to one study, Japanese houses literally lose all their value after about 15 years.
Not only that, but the same study also says that the average Japanese house lasts a mere 30 years. Considering some houses last for hundreds of years, Japan’s average seems pretty low.
This doesn’t make any sense at first. Lots of Japanese creations have a reputation for longevity (temples that have lasted hundreds of years), and it’s the exact opposite of how things work in a lot of the rest of the world. In the U.S., houses are supposed to be an investment that appreciate over time.
How did this happen? Where does all the value go?
Why Are Japanese Houses So Worthless?
Like anything, everybody has their own theory about why Japanese houses lose their value so quickly.
Some people argue that Japan has a unique climate that makes it harder to make houses that last. Japan faces high humidity, typhoons, earthquakes, and freezing winters, and that just makes it too hard to make a house last for very long
But of course, that’s to be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, Japan isn’t the only place in the world with weather like that. It’s not as if is Japan is unique in having to deal with different, sometimes extreme weather conditions.
Another and, in my mind, more credible theory, is that a lot of Japanese houses just aren’t built that well.
Anybody who’s been to Japan in the winter knows how bad the weatherproofing in Japanese houses can be. Double-paned windows aren’t common, insulation is usually lacking, and the walls can be thin, leading to freezing temperatures inside that aren’t much better than the weather outside.
Across the world, there are more and more institutions like LEED and Passivhaus are focused on making buildings energy efficient, but Japan seems to be standing still.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many houses aren’t earthquake-proof and, in an earthquake-prone country like Japan, that’s a big problem. When earthquakes happen, these houses can be damaged beyond repair.
All of these factors rolled up together raises the question – why are these homes built so poorly?
Some people (like Dogs And Demons’ Alex Kerr) subscribe to the theory that the government-subsidized Japanese construction industry builds a lot of things just for the sake of building them, and that function and longevity are at most, afterthoughts.
In other places, this wouldn’t be possible, but because of lax government regulation, in Japan it’s not only possible, but commonplace. Why build something expensive and meant to last when you could construct something cheaply?
Sometimes it seems like Japanese people prefer new houses anyway. An astonishing 86.9% of new homes sold in Japan are brand new. This is the exact opposite of a lot of western countries. In the US, only 22.4% of homes sold are new, 11.2% in the UK and 33.6% in France.
Given that, it’s hard to tell whether Japan’s love of new houses is because of shoddy construction, or just because people want new houses. It’s like asking which came first – the chicken, or the egg?
Fortunately though, it’s not all bad news. Some home buyers are beginning to be more discerning about the quality of houses, and more builders are catching on and improving their standards.
So while Japanese houses still lag behind many other parts of the world, that’s beginning to change. Do you see this change in Japan? Have any stories about Japanese homes and how well they’re built? Tell me in the comments!